It's that time of year again. Santa Claus is aboard that sleigh and on his way to spread Festive cheer at Kempton Park. Yes, it's the King George VI Chase!
As ever, there are previous winners in the field but will it be one of them or a new name that is to be added to the roll of honour for one of National Hunt racing's most coveted prizes? It's time to delve more deeply.
As a high-class novices' hurdler he was sent off as the favourite for the 2020 renewal of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham, meeting with defeat for the first time when fourth behind Shishkin, Abracadabras and Chantry House.
The Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old bookended last season as a novice over fences with wins at Punchestown, the latter a wide-margin success in a novices' handicap chase at the Punchestown Festival.
In-between he had one or two issues with his jumping and those resurfaced, when he was travelling well before unseating three out, in the Grade 1 John Durkan back at Punchestown earlier in the month.
He remains open to further progress and, if the master of Closutton can iron out those fencing foibles, he looks likely to make some. He will need to if he is to challenge at this level.
Third to stable companion Shishkin in that 2020 Supreme, a place ahead of Asterion Forlonge, save for one run back at Cheltenham in a novices' chase last season, he has been almost flawless over fences.
Turning the tables on Fusil Raffles, who had beaten him at Prestbury Park 12-months earlier, he was a convincing winner of the Grade 1 Marsh Novices' Chase (2m4f, soft) at the Cheltenham Festival. He then went on to destroy a Grade 1 field in Aintree's Maghull Novices' Chase (3m1f, good to soft) in April.
His facile reappearance win in a match with The Big Breakaway at Sandown Park last month served only to confirm his wellbeing. He will need to improve to win in this field. That almost looks like a given, and it would be no surprise if Nicky Henderson's classy chaser is heavily involved at the business end.
"He's not a slow three-mile horse, we upped to him three miles at Aintree and he got it well," says Henderson. "He had the solo at Sandown and was very good, but we haven't taught him to be a three-miler. The good thing is he's got some sort of natural pace and that helps around Kempton because they'll go quick, I think we know that, although if anyone goes quicker than Frodon then I think they are going quicker than the race needs to be run at.
"That sort of pace won't frighten him. He's just out of novice (company), of course, but he is sharp. He was very good the other day, and Nico was really happy with him. He's a very laid-back horse and that is in his favour, he's not going to be pulling and tugging and careering all over the place just because he is a two-and-a-half-mile horse."
Clan Des Obeaux
Settled a few lingering arguments as to his abilities when he trounced his four opponents, who were headed up by stablemate Cyrname, in the 2019 renewal of this event. That came under Sam Twiston-Davies but Harry Cobden was back on board when he went straight to the Cheltenham Gold Cup for his next race.
His apparent aversion to Prestbury Park resurfaced that day, going down to a comfortable defeat for a second time in the blue riband event to Al Boum Photo.
Third to stable companion Frodon in this 12-months ago, when only claiming that position by passing beaten horses on the run-in, trainer Paul Nicholls felt that he had taken the edge off him by running him in the Betfair Chase at Haydock a month earlier.
Beaten narrowly by Secret Investor in the Grade 2 Denman Chase at Newbury in February, he bounced back with a career-best when winning the Grade 1 Betway Bowl at Aintree in April by 26-lengths from Clondaw Castle.
Despite his trainer's comments about keeping him fresh, he was clearly thriving in the spring and less than three weeks after Aintree, he got one over on his old rival Al Boum Photo in the Grade 1 Punchestown Gold Cup.
Not seen since then, he will be primed, fresh and ready to attempt to join greats such as Wayward Lad, Desert Orchid and Kauto Star to have won this great race at least three times. There is little doubt that he is a strong contender.
One of the most popular horses in training, the nine-year-old has struck up a successful partnership with Bryony Frost, who has ridden him in his last 16 successive starts and 19 in total.
Together they have plundered three Grade 1 events, six Grade 2s and three Grade 3s. Having won the 2019 Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, they sprang a 20-1 surprise in this race two years ago, when getting the better of Waiting Patiently.
They reappeared with a defeat of Gold Cup winner Minella Indo in Down Royal's Champion Chase in October and that showed that Frodon is as well as ever. Few would bet against them emulating many others in lifting this prize for a second time.
Now in his fourth season over fences and has won five of his 15 such races, including two Grade 1s. Famously lowered the colours of Haydock specialist Bristol De Mai in the 2019 Betfair Chase but didn't win again until last month's reappearance in the Grade 2 1965 Chase at Ascot over two miles and five furlongs.
That came after a third wind operation and was on good going, though he is not ground dependent. It was some way short of his best but it was an encouraging revival for the Colin Tizzard team to rekindle dreams of winning a race like this with him.
However, a note of caution. Lostintranslation has twice turned up for this and twice pulled up. Perhaps Kempton, with its tighter turns placing an emphasis on speed rather than stamina, may not be an ideal venue for him.
Has always looked a very talented individual. Won the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett for staying novice hurdlers at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, going on to beat Allaho in the Punchestown equivalent a few weeks later.
Again underlined his love for Prestbury Park when he ran an absolute blinder to be 1l second to Champ in the 2020 RSA Chase.
Stepped up to the top echelon of staying chasers last season, winning Grade 3 and Grade 2 events with plenty in hand and everything looked to be falling into place. However, his jumping let him down in last year's Savills Chase at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting. Although he jumped around back there in the Irish Gold Cup in February, he didn't appear to get home.
He had gone off favourite for that race but with what happened in mind, it was no wonder that the bookmakers had him at no better than 9-1 to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup a month later.
A brilliant effort that day saw him beat his more fancied stablemate A Plus Tard into second, with dual champ Al Boum Photo in third, as the Irish cleaned up.
Beaten by Frodon at Down Royal on his reappearance, when back at the head of the market, that run has to go down as a disappointment. There may have been an argument for him needing the race and he certainly wasn't disgraced, so he cannot be ruled out on the back of one below par effort.
He also holds an entry for the Savills Chase again but if he does turn up at Kempton, then he will be feared by all comers.
He may be a 40-1 chance but Mister Fisher has shown that he is a serious talent on his day. A winner of three Grade 2 contests during his career, he was not far away behind Samcro at Grade 1 level in the 2020 running of the Marsh Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
He also pushed Frodon all the way in last season's Grade 2 Oaksey Chase at Sandown's April meeting. That two and three-quarter miles was the furthest trip over which he has completed a race (he was leading when unseating some way out in the Grade 1 Betway Bowl over three miles and a furlong a couple of weeks prior to Sandown), so there will be plenty who doubt that he will get home in a Grade 1 contest over three miles at a sharp track like Kempton.
That is one major thing he will have to prove on the day but, if the rain stays away, the current good ground at the London track will be to his liking and should help in that regard. He is likely to be in the van alongside the likes of Frodon and if he is still thereabouts turning in, we'll know soon enough whether he has the reserves to get home.
Really came to the attention in the 2017-18 campaign with a couple of easy wins at Newbury over their extended two mile trip, both on testing ground, before his stock rose further with an impressive Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices' Chase success at Warwick.
Winning has not been easy since he moved up into the big league, with just a Naas Grade 3 and a Cheltenham handicap chase to his name during that time. In fact, it's now over two years since he got his nose in front and he has raced only five times in that period.
Even so, he deserved plenty of credit for pushing Min all the way when beaten just a neck on being stepped up to two and a half miles in the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival.
Not seen again until tanking along for much of the way in this race last year, those questions over whether he gets this far were again raised, after he appeared to run out of petrol from the back of the second-last. He eventually finished over eight lengths behind Frodon.
We were afforded no further chance to assess those stamina concerns when, in his only start since last Boxing Day, he unseated Gavin Sheehan too far out to be certain of whether he sees out this trip, in the redirected Cotswold Chase at Sandown in February.
Since then he has left Harry Whittington for Paul Nicholls. The Ditcheat doyen knows all about how to win this race and if anyone can provide him with what it takes to get him home in front over this far, then perhaps it is him. You wouldn't confidently bet against it!
Has a Grade 1 bumper win to his name from the 2018 Punchestown Festival but otherwise has been competitive over obstacles at this level without winning.
Last season underlined that when, in four successive elite level chases, he finished one-length second to Min; fifth to A Plus Tard; fourth behind stablemate Chacun Pour Soi and then third to Allaho in the Ryanair at Cheltenham. Those four races underlined his versatility, with trips ranging from 2m1f up to 3m.
Resuming at Punchestown in the Grade 1 John Durkan recently, he again succumbed to Allaho over an extended two and a half miles. If he makes the final line-up here, he gives the impression that he could again run somewhere close to his best but that may still not be good enough.